After much deliberation I’m excited to reveal that my ‘Generation Dead: YA Fiction and the Gothic’ course list is finally complete!! Choosing the final list has been tricky. Phillip Pullman once said ‘There are some themes, some subjects, too large for adult fiction; they can only be dealt with adequately in a children’s book’ (Carnegie Medal Acceptance Speech, 1996). This is even truer of YA fictions. The novels I have chosen are strangely affecting and deeply questioning, and they explore undeadness and difference in surprising and interesting ways. There are those who will ask ‘why study YA fiction in universities?’ I will seek to respond to some of these criticisms. I am no stranger to sneeriness having taught vampire studies at MA level at the University of Hertfordshire since 2010, introducing the undead into the academy via my own research. We first began to discuss the importance of YA fictions of the Undead in the intro to the Open Graves, Open Minds book in 2013. Here we argue that:
‘Some vampire fictions have a stylistic competence and ingenuity and a certain daring that raises them above many contemporary ‘literary novels’. Often, intriguingly, it is among the Young Adult novels of the Undead that these are to be found. Why this is so may be worth further investigation […] perhaps reader expectations are less ossified and commercial constraints less determining’ (OGOM, p. 6).
Whatever the case, Young Adult Fictions will receive due attention here as they did back then. Our vampire collection includes chapters covering Twilight (of course), L. J. Smith’s The Vampire Diaries, Daniel Waters’s Generation Dead, and Marcus Sedgwick discussing his research notes for My Swordhand is Singing.
My course description for ‘Generation Dead’ had begun with a high school theme:
‘All over the country in the world of young adult fiction teenagers who die aren’t staying dead. This module will interrogate the new High School Gothic, exploring the representation of the Undead or living dead (werewolves, vampires and zombies) in dark or paranormal romance and other sub genres of young adult fiction featuring Undead teens. Texts range from Twilight, Vampire Diaries and Daniel Waters’s zombie trilogy Generation Dead, to Isaac Marion’s Warm Bodies and Eden Maguire’s series The Beautiful Dead. We’ll also look at examples of werewolf fiction (Shiver, Lonely Werewolf Girl) and at the folklore inspired novels of Marcus Sedgwick. Y.A. F. has attracted some of the most gifted and inspiring writers who address these themes as a means of confronting death or discrimination or to engage with religious faith and embrace the enduring power of love. We will be theorising folklore, investigating the ethics of writing for young adults, and grappling with Undead issues such as redemption and damnation, religious denomination, the sexualisation of early teens, prejudice and the politics of difference’. (Sam George, ‘Generation Dead’, Definitive Module Description, University of Hertfordshire)
I have deviated from High School Gothic slightly in the final list which embraces beauty and the beast type folk narratives more (though the fact that this is a theme in Twilight shows that these strands are very closely related). I’ll be interrogating the representation of vampires, werewolves, zombies and those dark fairies (much loved by William the Bloody) in YA novels. The texts I have chosen are as follows (grouped under the Undead or fantastical creatures they represent):
Daniel Waters, Generation Dead
Isaac Marion, Warm Bodies.
Marcus Sedgwick, My SwordHand is Singing
Stephanie Meyer, Twilight
Alyxandra Harvey, My Love Lies Bleeding
Holly Black, The Coldest Girl in Coldtown
Werewolves and Wolf Children
Maggie Stiefvater, Shiver
Cynthia Leitich, Tantalize
Marcus Sedgwick, The Dark Horse
Beasts and Dark Fairies
Robin Mckinley, Beauty
Marissa Meyer, Scarlet
Julie Kagawa, The Iron King
I’ll be workshopping these novels each week with reference to theories of genre, intertextuality, utopianism, folklore and fairy tale theory, animal studies, undeadness, Gothicism, and theories around the politics of difference. I will draw too on The Vampire Goes to College: Essays on Teaching with the Undead (McFarland, 2013), a work I contributed to, and which I wholeheartedly recommend to any budding teachers of the Gothic.
I’ll be pairing the texts with short stories and extracts from larger works such as Dracula, Carmilla, Dracula’s Guest, Sabine Baring Gould, Wagner the Wehr-wolf, Clemence Housman’s Were-wolf, Arthur Conan Doyle, Carter’s wolf stories, versions of Beauty and the Beast, Red Riding Hood, and more adult novels that feature child or teenage protagonists, such as Let the Right One In, The Last Werewolf and The Last Vampire which are darker than most.
I’m going to be seeking out scholarly articles (and writing them) and linking to other blogs and discussions. I’ll also be blogging about the student’s responses to each book once the course gets under way. I have over 50 expectant students signed up for this module. Beyond exciting. Love to know what you make of the list.